Responding to Juleyka’s callout for stories of family members living under authoritarian rule, reader Colleen touches upon the experience of her Dutch stepmother:
She spent four years in a Japanese POW camp in Indonesia—from age 12 to 16, and her brother from age 9 to 13. When they were liberated they went back to Holland as displaced persons.
The experience was NEVER talked about. No counseling. Nothing.
When she reached 18 she joined the Dutch Royal Navy, immigrated to Canada in her mid 20s, then to the U.S about age 28. She met my father and, for some unknown reason, married him. They had two daughters, who are now 53 and 52 (I’m 73).
My step-mom was a lovely, funny, gracious, manipulative control freak. Her mother taught me how to cook. Oma [“grandmother” in German] did not speak English, and I did not speak Dutch or German, but we flowed through the kitchen with smiles, laughter, and words that neither understood. Needless to say my step-mom had a wonderful effect on my life.
The period was one of the most critical in Indonesian history. Under German occupation, the Netherlands had little ability to defend its colony against the Japanese army, and less than three months after the first attacks on Borneo, the Japanese navy and army overran Dutch and allied forces.
Initially, most Indonesians joyfully welcomed the Japanese, as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. The sentiment changed, as Indonesians were expected to endure more hardship for the war effort. In 1944–1945, Allied troops largely bypassed Indonesia and did not fight their way into the most populous parts such as Java and Sumatra. As such, most of Indonesia was still under Japanese occupation at the time of their surrender, in August 1945.
Even if you don’t post it, I definitely recommend giving it a listen or at least looking through the transcript at the bottom of the page. It starts off on another tangent but ends up settling on a truly amazing story about how a group of Western adults in China during the time of the Japanese invasion kept their kids relatively protected from the worst of the horrors by turning the experience into an extended Girl Guides (Girl Scouts) camp as best they could.
This growing collection of stories makes me think of one we posted for our adulthood series, from a reader who grew up during the Communist dictatorship in Albania. Here’s a reposting of Valbona Bajraktari Schwab’s note:
Adulthood happened very early for me—the change, that is; that moment in time when you stop seeing the world around you as a big playground and you realize that it’s a minefield.
It was April 1985 in communist Albania. Our dictator, Enver Hoxha, had just passed away. I was 11 years old, in 5th grade, and as part of the youth leadership group of my middle school, I was asked to participate in the wake for our leader.
This meant waking up at 6am, lining up in the main boulevard of our capital city, Tirana, and walking slowly the line that snaked through the road all the way to the official building that houses the body of the dead dictator. I was there with a few teachers and a group of students ages 10-18. We knew we had to be serious and sad and cry often, but we didn’t know how long it would take and what a wake involved.
It took us a few hours before we got close to the building, but we didn’t realize that we would walk around the actual body of the dead. I remember in a blur the low lights, the big mound in the center of the room, flowers piled everywhere, but mostly the smell—sharp, chemical, rotting flowers and the faint smell of rotting flesh. I walked quickly in a daze, looking for the escape of the sun and fresh air outside.
As I am leaving a building, a reporter catches my eye and stops me. He said he wants to interview me and ask me questions about my impressions of the wake and my reaction to the death of our leader. I was confused and asked him what he wanted me to say. He said: “Well, say something about how you have met him when he was alive and how you’ll miss him now that he is gone and how he will live forever in our hearts and conclude with ‘farewell comrade Enver.’” Wanting to leave and join my friends, I quickly blurted out the lines in front of the camera and left.
When I arrived home about an hour later, I learned that my interview had been broadcast on the sole national TV channel. My grandmother said, “You spoke nicely but you didn’t look sad.”
I didn’t think much of it. I was anxious to see my mother, as I was tired and hadn’t seen her since early that morning and she was late from work. My mother came home three hours late. I ran to meet her but she stopped me before I had a chance to hug her, held me firmly by my shoulders and said, in the loudest voice I’d ever heard from her, “Never, ever go on national television again and never ever talk about political things with anyone.” She then hugged me tightly and started crying.
I learned that after my interview had been broadcasted on TV, everyone had seen it, since it was obligatory to follow the ceremony, even while at work. The representative of the communist party in my mother’s work place had seen it and had not been impressed by the fact that I didn’t cry. I didn’t show appropriate emotion for our leader’s death.
So, the natural answer was that my mother was a bad parent who hadn’t taught her daughter the appropriate emotional sentiment for the esteemed members of the party. He had called a political meeting right then and there, where the subject was my mother and her adherence to the communist principles as seen via her parenting skills. The meeting lasted three straight hours.
I thought she would be sent to jail or to a work camp and that I’d never see her again. Luckily, she was the first female surgeon of Albania and a very skilled one at that, so they spared her.
I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My father was also one of many Dominican men who served under the dictatorship of Trujillo. My father was a man of his time. He arrived in the early ’50s to the capital of Santo Domingo from the province of Puerto Plata. Back then he was a young man with dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual in La Guardia de Trujillo. He could barely read and write but he always had the ambitions of being near El Generalissimo. Trujillo was his idol and he intended to emulate him at all costs.
In those days, the Dominican military was a way to upper mobility for men like my father—men of humble backgrounds and little education who aspired to rise up in the ranks and become a general or part of the military mystique that was well-respected and adored by many Dominicans of his generation. My father would eventually become the chauffeur for one of Trujillo’s senior ranking officers. This was a duty that he was very proud of because it was a highly coveted job.
“Trujillo took pride in the military,” my father would say “and if you were one of his soldiers, you were respected by all,” he would conclude. “Guardias were respected and nobody would dare commit a crime against a guardia,” my mother would add.
I remember listening to my parents relate stories after stories about how good things were when Trujillo was in power. According to them, life was a lot simpler and the country enjoyed a much more prosperous economy. The crime rate was also low because anyone who was caught committing a crime would face a quick justice. “You could sleep with the door open and nobody would dare steal anything from you,” my mother always commented.
Trujillo did not bother with the small trivialities and bureaucracies of the justice system. And as in any society ruled by an oppressive dictator, Trujillo had a secret police that terrorized the population and instilled fears, creating suspicions among many.
El Generalissimo was assassinated in May 1961, the year I was born, and so by the time I was a teenager in the late ’70s, many of those who served under him were still around my neighborhood. Some of the men were still in the military. The mystique of Trujillo was very much palpable among the people.
Joaquin Balaguer, at one point Trujillo’s right-hand man, became president. Many people viewed his presidency as an extension of Trujillo’s reign but without the mass appeal and adulation from the masses. Balaguer was a hardliner, a well-educated man who despised university students and showered the poor with food baskets and toys. He was also a quiet and calculating operator who used his political shrewdness for political gain.
In short, Balaguer was a typical Latin American strongman. Unlike many men who were by Trujillo’s side and had climbed to the top by brute force, Balaguer did it by being his scribe and the architect of his policies. Balaguer did not take care of the military but rather used it as a tool of government. This and the fact that he was a lifelong bachelor and wifeless created rumors about his manhood—a dangerous thing for a leader in a country that values machismo. Yet, Balaguer was able to maintain a cozy relationship with the military.
And so in the late ’70s, right around the time of my adolescence, many people felt that the good times had already gone by. The Era of Trujillo had maintained a stable economy and even paid off the national debts. The ’70s, during which Balaguer was mostly president, were mired by oppression, political discourse, student protests, workers’ strikes, killings and disappearance of anyone labeled by the government radical or communist. There was also a stagnant economy and a public distrust of the uncontrollable private sector that raised the price of basic necessities at their own leisure. More than 15 years after the demise of Trujillo’s regime, the country was still trying to find itself.
Many had forgotten Trujillo’s crimes and his reign of brutality against the country. There was a sense of nostalgia, yet collective amnesia. They longed for the stability, prosperity, and a sense of national security that was common in the ’50s, even if it was at a price: the nonexistence of civil liberties and prevalent human rights violations. Trujillo’s regime had a paternal appeal for many Dominicans and it’s not a surprise that one of his many titles was Benefactor of the Nation.
By the late ’70s, my father had long left the military and emigrated to New York. “The military was never the same after Trujillo was killed,” my father lamented.
I was mostly raised by my mother, while my father left the country to look for a better future in Nueva York. Many times, I found myself going through my father’s old belongings. I admired his collections of military metals, photos, and a magazine of Trujillo that he so zealously kept private.
There is a photo of my father wearing the Dominican Air Force uniform with a ribbon on his chest and a picturesque background of palm trees and the ocean [seen in the collage above]. His dream was finally realized in this photo. There is another picture of my father with my mother and my grandmother [seen above]. They all look proud. My mother, next to her husband, who could count on him to provide for the family as long as he was in the military. My grandmother, who could also count on my father to help her economically and send her money to the countryside.
It was probably around the time these pictures were taken that my father was carrying out El Jefe’s crimes.
He was a small yet necessary piece of Trujillo’s gargantuan crushing and killing machine. Sometimes, I would get bits and pieces of his stories when he did not realize that I was around. Among friends, after a few cervezas and once the stupor of alcohol had dismantled away all his inhibitions, he would confess about being on patrol roaming the city for those deemed undesirables by the regime, “rompiendo cabezas,” or fracturing skulls, as he used to put it and “teaching them a lesson.”
There were many pictures of Trujillo. In those times, the ’50s, families were required to maintain pictures of El Jefe as a sign of loyalty toward the dictatorship. There was also that glossy magazine, probably commissioned by Trujillo. It had a biography of him and described his military triumphs and training. Trujillo had been trained and molded by the U.S. Marine Corps during the American occupation in 1918. The magazine also depicted the different types of armaments of the Dominican Armed Forces, planes, and troop marching. There were also ribbon-cutting ceremonies illustrating new facilities built by the dictator.
I grew up among all of these things. My parents longed for a past that would never return. Although my father had lived in the U.S. for more than five years by the late ’70s, he was reluctant to bring us here. He was hoping that his Santo Domingo would get better someday and he would be able to return. As such, he delayed his decision to bring us to the United States. I finally arrived in the winter of 1980 along with my mother and sister. My sister and I enrolled in community college and began English classes.
One day, my father sat me down and told me that I must either join the military or get a college education. He added that if I did not want to end up like him working in a factory, I had to learn English quickly. And so it was that in the fall of 1982, with a basic knowledge of the English language, I joined the U.S. Marines Corps. My father could not have been more proud of me when I return from basic training wearing the dress blue uniform. He carried a picture of me in that uniform in his wallet and he would show it to everyone.
I left the Marine Corps after three years to complete my bachelor’s degree. In 1990, after obtaining my degree, I started my civil service career working for the state of New Jersey. After that, I was my father’s favorite son. He always respected me for taking his advice. He did not have the same feelings for my sister because she never listened to him.
I eventually returned to military service in 1995. I joined the Army Reserve because I somehow missed the comradeship of the service and felt a sense of duty.
My father would go back to the Dominican Republic and visit his old friends from his military days. After all those years, he still kept in contact with them. My father would refer to this group of friends as “La Guardia Vieja,” or the old guard. Even after many years, he trusted his old military friends more than he trusted his brothers and other relatives.
My father passed away in 2004. When my sister was cleaning the house and giving away his belongings, I managed to keep the magazine and his old photos. I could not find his medals.
A few years later, one of his old friends from the military, who also happened to be my godfather, also passed away. Eventually, they all died off. In May of this year, Antonio Imbert Barrerra, one of the main plotters of Trujillo’s assassination, passed away at the age of 96.
The sense of military duty, derived from my father, has stayed in my family. In the spring of 2009, I was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. One day during my deployment I called my wife, and she sounded very upset and frustrated. She told me that our youngest son, who had been born in New Jersey 19 years before, decided to join the U.S. Army and did not bother to tell anyone.
“If anything happens to him, you are responsible. You guys with all this military thing,” my wife exclaimed.
She knew one or two things because her father had also served in the Dominican military during the Era of Trujillo. She was also raised a few blocks away from the Dominican Air Force Academy. (The history of its building and construction had also been featured in the magazine I kept of Trujillo.)
In the winter of 2010, my oldest son, born in New Jersey in 1987, also joined the U.S. Army, and a few years later he served in Afghanistan.
Thank you for sharing your family’s story with our readers and me. I recognized your ambivalence over your father’s role, and I also saw you redeem him partially through your own choices and the example you set for your sons. That is as much as we can do as individuals: rise and continue to rise.
I also want to thank you for illustrating so candidly the complexities of Dominican masculinity, which is the most potent—perhaps toxic?—element of our culture to this day. As a woman, I have experienced it second-hand, as expectations for me are far different, but I have long recognized the limiting ways men are expected to define themselves in our country. Your father’s “dreams of becoming a high-ranking individual” attest to the lure of power and authority that compels many men—Trujillo being the ultimate example—to bend others’ lives to their will. That dynamic is still steeped in the structures of families, churches, schools, and other significant institutions that collectively define Dominican identity. In the end, it is a trap for the men, and an extended sentence for the rest of us.
I’m sure you and I could speak at length about your experiences, but I’ll draw this note to a close by thanking you again for your candor and honesty, both of which are so necessary to reach true understanding and attain meaningful change.
Update from another reader with a similar experience as Luis’s and mine:
My parents were both born and raised in the Dominican Republic and experienced first-hand the nefarious dictatorship of Trujillo. That trauma informed my upbringing as a Dominican American in New York City. As a result I have written a book Dividing Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic’s Border Campaign against Haiti, 1930-1961 and wrote and perform a one-man show called Eddie’s Perejil (which you can learn more about on my website). Coming to grips with the legacy of dictatorships and mass murder is critically important, particularly in the diaspora. I applaud your important contributions to our understanding of post-trauma, memory, and identity.
The president reportedly sought the help of a foreign government against Joe Biden.
The president of the United States reportedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen who might challenge him for his office. This is the single most important revelation in a scoop by The Wall Street Journal, and if it is true, then President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately.
Until now, there was room for reasonable disagreement over impeachment as both a matter of politics and a matter of tactics. The Mueller report revealed despicably unpatriotic behavior by Trump and his minions, but it did not trigger a political judgment with a majority of Americans that it warranted impeachment. The Democrats, for their part, remained unwilling to risk their new majority in Congress on a move destined to fail in a Republican-controlled Senate.
A lot rides on how parents present the activity to their kids.
They can be identified by their independent-bookstore tote bags, their “Book Lover” mugs, or—most reliably—by the bound, printed stacks of paper they flip through on their lap. They are, for lack of a more specific term, readers.
Joining their tribe seems simple enough: Get a book, read it, and voilà! You’re a reader—no tote bag necessary. But behind that simple process is a question of motivation—of why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t. That why is consequential—leisure reading has been linked to a range of good academic and professional outcomes—as well as difficult to fully explain. But a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.
New reports about President Trump’s calls with the Ukrainian president could push Nancy Pelosi to recalculate the politics of an attempt to remove him from office.
Few Democratic leaders have seemed less eager to impeach President Donald Trump than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She’s warned that the public doesn’t want it and the Senate would never go for it. But a rolling series of disclosures may force her to recalculate the politics. A report in The Wall Street Journal today, quickly confirmed by other major outlets, introduced an explosive new twist to a story that already had the trappings of one of the biggest threats yet to Trump’s presidency. The fresh details about Trump’s apparent effort to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating his political rival Joe Biden may have irreversibly pushed the president into the impeachment hot zone.
According to the Journal, in a phone call in July, Trump pressed Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Biden’s son Hunter. Over and over, Trump urged Zelensky to work in tandem with his lawyer and confidant Rudy Giuliani, who has publicly accused Joe Biden of trying to interfere in the investigation of a Ukrainian gas company, on whose board Hunter Biden sat. (A Ukrainian official said there was no wrongdoing, the Journal reported.)
The country is offering citizenship to Jews whose families it expelled in the 15th century.
The clock is ticking down on one of the world’s most unusual immigration proposals—Spain’s offer of citizenship to Jews whose families it expelled more than 500 years ago.
In 1492, the year Christopher Columbus set sail, Spain’s Edict of Expulsion gave Jews a stark choice: Convert, depart, or die. At the time, Spain’s Jewish community was one of the largest in the world, though their numbers had diminished due to a series of massacres and mass conversions 100 years earlier. Jews had lived on the Iberian Peninsula for more than 1,700 years, producing philosophers, poets, diplomats, physicians, scholars, translators, and merchants.
Historians still debate the number of Jews expelled; some estimate 40,000, others 100,000 or more. Those who fled sought exile in places that would have them—Italy, North Africa, the Netherlands, and eventually the Ottoman empire. Many continued to speak Ladino, a variant of 15th-century Spanish, and treasure elements of Spanish culture. Tens of thousands stayed, but converted, and remained vulnerable to the perils of the Inquisition. How many Jews were killed remains unclear, but a widely accepted estimate is 2,000 people during the first two decades of the Inquisition, with thousands more tortured and killed throughout its full course.
Accepting the reality about the president’s disordered personality is important—even essential.
During the 2016 campaign, I received a phone call from an influential political journalist and author, who was soliciting my thoughts on Donald Trump. Trump’s rise in the Republican Party was still something of a shock, and he wanted to know the things I felt he should keep in mind as he went about the task of covering Trump.
At the top of my list: Talk to psychologists and psychiatrists about the state of Trump’s mental health, since I considered that to be the most important thing when it came to understanding him. It was Trump’s Rosetta stone.
I wasn’t shy about making the same case publicly. During a July 14, 2016, appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, for example, I responded to a pro-Trump caller who was upset that I opposed Trump despite my having been a Republican for my entire adult life and having served in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the George W. Bush White House.
Astronomers have found radio-emitting structures jutting out from our galaxy’s black hole.
Farhad Yusef-Zadeh was observing the center of the Milky Way galaxy in radio waves, looking for the presence of faint stars, when he saw it: a spindly structure giving off its own radio emissions. The filament-like feature was probably a glitch in the telescope, or something clouding the field of view, he decided. It shouldn’t be here, he thought, and stripped it out of his data.
But the mystery filament kept showing up, and soon Yusef-Zadeh found others. What the astronomer had mistaken for an imperfection turned out to be an entire population of cosmic structures at the heart of the galaxy.
More than 100 filaments have been detected since Yusef-Zadeh’s first encounter in the early 1980s. Astronomers can’t completely explain them, but they have given them familiar labels, naming them after the earthly things they resemble: the pelican, the mouse, the snake. The menagerie of filaments is clustered around the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. “They haven’t been found elsewhere,” says Yusef-Zadeh, a physics and astronomy professor at Northwestern University.
Caught between a brutal meritocracy and a radical new progressivism, a parent tries to do right by his children while navigating New York City’s schools.
To be a parent is to be compromised.You pledge allegiance to justice for all, you swear that private attachments can rhyme with the public good, but when the choice comes down to your child or an abstraction—even the well-being of children you don’t know—you’ll betray your principles to the fierce unfairness of love. Then life takes revenge on the conceit that your child’s fate lies in your hands at all. The organized pathologies of adults, including yours—sometimes known as politics—find a way to infect the world of children. Only they can save themselves.
Our son underwent his first school interview soon after turning 2. He’d been using words for about a year. An admissions officer at a private school with brand-new, beautifully and sustainably constructed art and dance studios gave him a piece of paper and crayons. While she questioned my wife and me about our work, our son drew a yellow circle over a green squiggle.
One of the Emmy-nominated sitcom’s secret strengths is its portrayal of long-term partnership—as a bond that is as eccentric as it is affectionate.
Moira Rose, the grandiloquent matriarch of Schitt’s Creek, has suffered plenty of indignities since her formerly wealthy family was forced to relocate to the rural town they’d once purchased as a joke. Over the show’s first four seasons, the onetime patrician, played by Catherine O’Hara, lost her friends, her acting prestige, and a handful of her beloved wigs. Still, it was a misunderstanding in Season 5 that most emphatically propelled Moira’s anxiety: Upon returning from a film shoot, she discovered a stack of love letters addressed to her husband, John (played by Eugene Levy). As a distraught Moira insisted there was “a perfectly logical explanation” for the letters, the news spread through town, eventually prompting John to reveal the truth. “You wrote those letters!” he told his wife. “That week on Sunrise Bay ... you were in a body cast; they wouldn’t let you take it off. You were writing with your left hand!”
Why the consumer-tech revolution can’t seem to survive public scrutiny
The office-space company WeWork announced that it was postponing its initial public offering this week, a reaction to a sharp decline in its reported valuation from $47 billion a few weeks ago to less than $20 billion today.
In many ways, the company’s four-week tailspin has been a one-of-a-kind spectacle. Documents filed in anticipation of its public offering revealed a pattern of behavior from its founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, that fits somewhere on the spectrum between highly eccentric and vaguely Caligulan. In one lurid example, Neumann insisted that WeWork change its name to the We Company, a title he had already trademarked, thus allowing him to charge his own company nearly $6 million for the shotgun rechristening.
Just like in 2016, the president’s most egregious misconduct is unfolding in the open.
Washington is a place where incredible amounts of time and effort are spent to prove what’s already obvious.
This week’s drama over a whistle-blower complaint about President Donald Trump is only the latest example. The House Intelligence Committee is embroiled in a fight with the acting director of national intelligence, and by extension the White House, over the complaint. While the complaint and the person who made it, reportedly a U.S. intelligence official, remain secret, the outlines are gradually becoming clear. The official reportedly concluded that Trump had made an inappropriate “promise” to a foreign leader in a matter that reportedly involves Ukraine.
Speculation centers on a decision about whether to release U.S. aid to Ukraine, in conjunction with a Trump-related push to dig up damaging dirt about former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business interests in the country. Biden, of course, is the leading Democratic candidate to run against Trump in 2020. At the rate at which details about the complaint are leaking, we should have a pretty good idea within a week of the specifics, despite the administration’s best efforts at stonewalling.